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Sheriff Dever and Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, south of Phoenix, formed the Border Sheriffs Association and filed their own legal briefs to defend the law against the Obama administration’s challenge.

“It’s probably a better idea today than the day it passed,” Sheriff Dever said. “I have three of my boys and one daughter-in-law who are law enforcement officers here in the state of Arizona working the streets. They would have told you before the law was even mentioned, and they’ll tell you today, it is a tool they need to clean up their communities.”

Mr. Obama criticized the law from the start, saying it gave too much power to police. He told one audience that “now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed.”

Officials from his administration have said the law could overwhelm federal authorities’ ability to handle all of the calls for assistance from local police. They also argue the steps they have taken - temporarily deploying the National Guard to the border, hiring more Border Patrol agents and boosting available technology - have made the region more secure than ever.

“It is simply inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border with Mexico is overrun or out of control,” Ms. Napolitano, the former governor who is now homeland security secretary, said last month at a forum on immigration hosted by liberal advocacy group NDN. “This statement — I think sometimes it’s made to score some political points — but it’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong.”

The administration’s arguments infuriate Sheriff Babeu, who said the criticism portrays local police as the enemy.

“Who’s the bad guy of the story [Mr. Obama] goes on to tell? It’s one of my deputies, one of Arizona’s finest police officers, that the president said is going to demand papers from a man for no other reason than the color of his skin,” Sheriff Babeu said.

He said that even if the number of illegal crossings is dropping, the level of violence is growing. He said the number of high-speed chases in Pinal County increased from 140 in 2007 to 340 in 2010.

“It’s not because my deputies like to drive fast,” he said. “It underscored the border is not more secure than ever. The tactics have changed. They’re not fleeing every time. They want to fight my deputies.”